Saturday, December 27, 2014

Review: Last Will and Testament by Dahlia Adler

Title: Last Will and Testament (Radleigh University, #1) 

Author: Dahlia Adler 

Rating: 3 Stars

Last Will and Testament is one of the few novels I've managed to read in one sitting over the past few months. Considering that little has kept me away from sleep since I began college, this speaks volumes. While Adler's latest is compulsively readable, with a flawed heroine we cannot help but root for and a swoon-worthy romance to boot, my feminist brain couldn't help but nit-pick at the villain of this storyline--which only contributed to my rising dislike of the plot during its last quarter. Nevertheless, I cannot help but recommend Last Will and Testament in a sea of increasingly predictable and bland New Adult novels. It isn't the best forbidden romance novel I've read, but it's certainly not the worst either.

Lizzie, the heroine of our novel, is knowingly helping the president of an on-campus fraternity cheat with his girlfriend by being the "other" woman, when the police knock of their bedroom door to inform her that both her parents have been killed in a car accident. This makes 18-year-old Lizzie the guardian of her two younger brothers, 13-year-old Tyler and 7-year-old Max, as well as forcing her to increase her GPA if she wants to remain on a scholarship to stay in college. Stunned, alone, and completely unprepared for the responsibility she must now undertake, the last place Lizzie expects to find help is from her young (and very sexy) TA, Connor. Connor, whose history class Lizzie is currently getting by with a C, finds Lizzie a new apartment to house her brothers and agrees to tutor her as well, all so that Lizzie can achieve the minimum GPA required to maintain her scholarship. While Lizzie is puzzled--and grateful--for Connor's willingness to help, she doesn't expect to fall in love with him. After all, this is the TA whose class she has ignored, skipped, and detested. But, as both Connor and Lizzie will realize, there is no convenient time for love.

First and foremost, I have to applaud Adler for, from the beginning of her novel itself, creating a heroine who isn't instantly likable. Lizzie is knowingly sleeping with a guy in a relationship and she spends her weekends getting drunk in frat houses instead of studying to improve her GPA. Yet, despite this, it is Lizzie who is our heroine and I admire that Adler crafts her in such a way that she manages to be grief-stricken and sarcastic, with "loose morals" by New Adult terms, and is still an incredible heroine with strength and courage in the face of tragedy. Moreover, another kudos I must assign Adler is her realistic portrayal of college; college is hard. Lizzie may have been the valedictorian of her high school but she's struggling to get by in college and as soon as she owns up to her responsibilities and stops partying, spending all her time looking after her brothers and studying, her grades improve. The New Adult lifestyle of party-going heroines who have time to both maintain their grades, their popularity, and their love stories? It's a myth that is very difficult to perpetuate in reality and I like that Adler approaches this from a realistic stance.

Last Will and Testament stands out, however, because of its forbidden romance. Connor and Lizzie's love story plays out slowly, cautiously, with neither of them acknowledging the feelings they have for one another until they are so ingrained into each other's lives. Lizzie starts out detesting Connor and her change of heart as she gets to know him as a person--as more than her TA--is developed perfectly. I was on the edge of my seat, dying to see how Lizzie would handle her younger siblings alongside Connor. Moreover, I was desperate to see if Connor would rise to the challenge of being with a student, particularly one with the baggage Lizzie brings with her. Adler handles this romance adeptly, making it both sexy and believable without sacrificing any of the side characters she adds. Lizzie's brothers have their own personalities, each as developed as that of Lizzie and Connor, so the complications they add to the storyline were a unique twist. Connor, too, is not without his own baggage and though the main plot line revolves around Lizzie and her issues since her parent's death, I appreciated the glimpses into Connor's past.

Where my issues with Last Will and Testament arose came in the last quarter of the novel. Lizzie, who--if you'll re-call, was sleeping with the president of a fraternity house even though he already had a girlfriend--winds up becoming Public Enemy #1 of said girlfriend. And, naturally, this girlfriend is the villain of our plot and proceeds to go to great lengths to make trouble for Connor and Lizzie in their little paradise. Last Will and Testament doesn't need a villain, frankly. The circumstances Lizzie is placed in cause enough hurdles in her life, not to mention her younger brothers, thus the emergence of such a dramatic storyline towards the end of the novel was disappointing, to say the least. What's more, the villainous girlfriend in question chooses to take down Lizzie when it was her own boyfriend who was truly at fault for cheating on her in the first place. I continue to be confused by why media--books, movies, commercials, shows, etc.--perpetuates the idea that a scorned woman will exact revenge on another woman. I attend an all-woman's college and I can assure you that, despite all the confused looks I received after I made my decision--there has been less drama and more solidarity and sisterhood on my campus than those of my friend's who all opted for the usual co-ed route. Girls are not naturally vindictive and vicious and the fact that the villain of this novel goes to extreme lengths to "get back" at Lizzie is not only unrealistic, but it perpetuates a terrible reputation upon women. It is especially saddening within the context that Adler truly created an exceptional heroine in Lizzie, one who had not just one but two close girlfriends with reliable friendships. Yet, the disintegration of the plot within these last few chapters deducted a couple of stars from my otherwise favorable rating of Adler's latest.

Like I said previously, I would not hesitate to recommend Last Will and Testament. It is a New Adult novel that manages to be un-put-dow-able and the romance at the crux of this story is truly sweet and swoony. If you manage to overlook the dramatic plot developments of the end, this is an ideal New Adult read. Adler may not be a favorite author of mine, but she certainly possesses the potential.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

ARC Review: This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Title: This Shattered World (Starbound, #2) 

Authors: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner 

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: December 23rd, 2014 

I have to be honest: This Shattered World isn't nearly as good as These Broken Stars. But, it's still really, really good. With this companion novel, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner not only introduce us to new characters which burrow their way into our hearts, but they significantly expand on their galactic world as well. While This Shattered World didn't capture my heart to the extent These Broken Stars did--it lacked the same level of swoon-factor and, what's more, I missed the back-to-back revelations--it's a sequel I wouldn't hesitate to re-read, re-visit, and cherish on my shelves.

This Shattered World takes us to a new planet, Avon, where the terraforming that should have taken place never has. Thus, there is a divide between the original residents of Avon, now rebels and militants fighting for their planet back, and military personnel who have been hired to keep the peace and monitor the planet. Flynn, the younger brother of a rebel leader who died for their cause, is now leading the rebellion against the corporations which have taken over Avon. When he captures Captain Lee Chase, a deadly fighter sent to crush the rebellions occurring on Avon, the course of their lives changes forever.

The opening pages of This Shattered World are impossible to look away from. Lee and Flynn's initial meeting, Lee's kidnapping at the hands of Flynn, their travels in the swampy marshlands of Avon to the rebellion hideout... It all feels cloaked in an aura of dream-like reality. Not only is it a brilliant start to a novel that is full of action and betrayal, more so than These Broken Stars, but it also introduces us to two such strong personalities at their best. Lee, whose name is uttered in fear as she is a tough captain, is immediately placed in a position of vulnerability where she finds herself duped by a rebel. Thus, the antagonism between Lee and Flynn is understandable though the slow manner in which their perceptions of one another grow to change is simply captivating.

While Tarver and Lilac's story felt so isolated--the two of them, a mysterious planet--Lee and Flynn's story is set against a backdrop of war, rebellion, and years of suppressed misconceptions and anger. It raises the stakes in their relationship and makes that eventual reconciliation between the two seem far more inevitable than that between Tarver and Lilac. After all, what is social hierarchy in the face of war? Yet, their story is completely unpredictable from start to finish and I found myself pleasantly surprised by the turns the narrative would take and, moreover, the slow build to the truth about Avon and its lack of terraformed earth.

Although Lee and Flynn's romance is not as large an aspect of this novel as Tarver and Lilac's may have been, it is no less effective and swoon-worthy. Additionally, the dual narration, giving us both Lee and Flynn's perspectives, is executed to perfection. Not only are both their voices completely different, but their demons are too. Lee and Flynn's pasts play an integral role in their growth and romantic journey and witnessing that from two perspectives allowed these two to become as near and dear to my heart as Tarver and Lilac themselves.

This Shattered World would not be complete, however, without a glimpse at our previous hero and heroine. Tarver and Lilac don't play a huge role in this novel, but their parts are more substantial than I anticipated and I loooved re-visiting them. Flynn, Lee, Tarver, and Lilac. I love these characters, the depth of their personalities, and their relentless passion for the galactic world at hand. Without a doubt, I know that the next novel Kaufman and Spooner write is going to be just as good, if not better, than these previous installments. In my eyes, they can simply do no wrong.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Blog Tour: This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Guest Post & Giveaway)

I am so excited to be part of The Midnight Garden's Blog Tour of This Shattered World today! I loved These Broken Stars when I read it last year and I can vouch for the fact that this companion novel is just as brilliant and romantic as its predecessor. If you're even the tiniest fan of science fiction, you'll want to pick up this series for sure!  

Today I'll be welcoming the authors of This Shattered World, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner to talk about the world-building in their science fiction realms. If you're a frequent reader of the blog then you'll know that I love nothing more than a well-developed world, especially one grounded in reality, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Amie and Meagan had to say about their world-building. I think you will too. :)

Secrets of Starbound Unlocked: Science and Settings

The Starbound trilogy might be set in the future, but it’s grounded solidly in today’s science. We check our science is correct by consulting with physicists, doctors, botanists and others, or we check our science is plausible, if we’re getting creative. Some things (like hyperspace travel) we can’t do yet, but we try to make sure that nothing is scientifically impossible based on what we know right now.

Back when we were drafting These Broken Stars, our editor asked us to put together what we now call the Starbound Encyclopedia. It’s nearly ten thousand words of vital information about the characters and worlds you’ll encounter as you read these books. Here are a few excerpts that will tell you a little bit more about what you’re going to find on Avon in This Shattered World!

Terraforming: A Brief History

Mankind’s first experiments in terraforming took place on Mars in the mid-21st century, but the process did not become viable until after the discovery of faster-than-light travel almost a hundred years later. With the advent of interstellar exploration, the transportation of materials to Mars for terraforming became much cheaper and quicker, and the Mars Company took over from the government-funded scientists. By the time Mars was (barely) habitable, mankind had discovered dozens of other candidates for terraforming outside of our solar system, and had begun to apply the same process to them. These days, Earth is little more than a vast museum of mankind’s history, with environmental stabilizers to prevent complete ecological collapse. Thus far there have been no signs of life elsewhere in the galaxy, intelligent or otherwise… as far as the public record shows.

Avon: Planetary Purgatory

Avon is a recently terraformed planet, unable to sustain human life without the aid of respirators until only a generation ago. It’s co-owned by NovaCorp and Terra Dynamics. It should be much further along in the process than it is, but for generations the planet has been “stuck” at a particular stage in its development. Much of the planet is infertile swamp land, and the plant life is limited to algae and reeds. Its skies are constantly obscured due to a thick, constant cloud cover shrouding almost the entire planet.

The Fianna

Ten years before the start of This Shattered World, some of the descendants of Avon’s original colonists rose up in rebellion against Terra Dynamics and NovaCorp. Calling themselves the Fianna (Irish for warriors), they were led by a young woman named Orla Cormac. They demanded to know why Avon’s terraforming hadn’t progressed—until the planet becomes self-sufficient, Avon’s colonists are not considered citizens, and have no representation in the Galactic Council. The rebellion was unsuccessful, and Orla was executed for her crimes. The military has had fully-operational bases there ever since, acting as the planet’s police and security force until it becomes self-sufficient enough to have its own local governmental forces. Now, Orla’s little brother, Flynn Cormac, has inherited the rebellion. Unlike his sister, Flynn longs for peace, and hasn’t given up on the idea that there’s a way out for his people that doesn’t involve bloodshed.

Avon: The Fury

Though the locals are unaffected, soldiers posted on Avon succumb to a creeping madness called the Fury, which begins with disturbing dreams and escalates into an outburst of (usually fatal) violence. Most soldiers last only a few months before being reassigned to other planets. Despite numerous studies of the environment by doctors and scientists, no one has been able to determine a cause for this affliction. The only cure, once symptoms begin, is to be transferred off of Avon.
Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner are longtime friends and sometime flatmates who have traveled the world (but not yet the galaxy), covering every continent between them. They are sure outer space is only a matter of time. Meagan, who is also the author of the Skylark trilogy, currently lives in Asheville, NC, while Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia. Although they currently live apart, they are united by their love of space opera, road trips, and second breakfasts.
Tour Schedule:
Monday, December 8          The Midnight Garden    Secrets of Starbound: Characters

Tuesday, December 9         The Book Smugglers    Making an Audiobook
Wednesday, December 10  Ivy Book Bindings        Secrets of Starbound: Science and Settings
Thursday, December 11       Cuddlebuggery             How Amie & Meagan Met
Friday, December 12            Little Book Owl             Video Interview
Monday, December 15         Mundie Moms               Shooting the Cover
Tuesday, December 16        Xpresso Reads             Starbound Inspirations
Wednesday, December 17   A Book Utopia               Video: Your New Book Boyfriend
Thursday, December 18       Supernatural Snark       Q & A
Friday, December 19            Love is Not a Triangle   Gender in Science Fiction


We have some incredibly cool giveaways thanks to the authors and Disney-Hyperion. Not only do we have 5 hardback copies of This Shattered World to give away, but we also have a grand prize that’ll make fans of the series super, super excited!

Grand Prize:
Autographed copies of These Broken Stars and This Shattered World
Starbound Swag
A secret letter from Tarver to Lilac, which you may keep secret for yourself, or may be posted and shared with others
Your choice of coffee with the authors at one of their upcoming U.S. tour stops (locations TBD) OR a Skype chat!

All you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form and leave a thoughtful comment below telling us why you’re specifically excited to win this prize! Don’t forget, you may earn additional points by sharing this giveaway on social media and by visiting the other tour stops as well.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
A huuuge shout out to Wendy @ The Midnight Garden for organizing this blog tour and for selecting me to be a part of it. I had a blast, Wendy, so thanks a bunch! If you haven't already, be sure to check them out! :)
Also, be sure to look out for my review of This Shattered World soon to find out more about these characters, their journey, and, most importantly, their love story!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Release Day Mini-Review: Shadowed Heart by Laura Florand

Title: Shadowed Heart (Amour et Chocolat, #5.5) 

Author: Laura Florand

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: December 3rd, 2014
Three words, to shake a man’s existence.
Three words, to call on all a man’s strength, all his courage, all his love, and all his ability to hope and dream…and trust.
Three words, to wake up every fear a man has ever had.
“I’m pregnant, Luc.”
Now how could a man be perfect enough for that?
Now in this sequel to The Chocolate Heart, Florand takes us into the heart of happily ever after with a story full of love, hope, and friendship. Struggling to get their new restaurant off the ground in the south of France, newly married top chef Luc Leroi and his wife Summer must face all their demons at the prospect of becoming parents. Fortunately, Summer's cousins and Luc's rival chefs join forces with the couple to prove that not even a top chef has to handle everything alone and happiness really can last ever after.
I've been stalking NetGalley for months, now, just waiting for the next Florand novel to appear. I've read and re-read Florand's novels so often that to re-visit an old favorite doesn't quite give me the same pleasure as cracking open the spine of a new one. Thus, despite the fact that I've read other Florand novels only earlier this year, and re-read a handful of her books recently, picking up Shadowed Heart felt like coming home after a long, long break.

While the majority of Florand's titles can be read as stand-alones, this is one novella that simply demands that the reader have read The Chocolate Heart. Even though it's been awhile since I perused the volume myself, Luc and Summer's romance is such a strong, visceral, and truly humbling experience. It's full of heartache and strength, both in such equal magnitude, that it's impossible not to become entirely embroiled in their tale and wish, desperately, for the happiest ending possible. Thus, a follow-up novella is both a welcome surprise and a certain dread. I knew, even before opening the PDF of this, that I was going to become an emotional wreck at some point during the story--that's just the type of writer Florand is. Luc and Summer feel fleshly-real, so much so that their very being intertwines with yours until their slightest pain affects you in a physical manner.

It's a sign of Florand's skill that she's able to encompass such a wide range of emotion into such a slim volume. Shadowed Heart follows Luc and Summer as they discover that Summer is pregnant, all while Luc struggles to open his own restaurant and come to terms with what it means to be a father, support a family, and be the type of husband Summer needs him to be. Many of the themes Florand touches upon in this novella are echoes of what we saw in The Chocolate Heart but they feel just as poignant here, if not more. At a time of so much happiness, for this married couple to fall prey to doubt and most importantly, self-doubt, is a terrifying scene to watch unfold. Yet, I appreciate that Shadowed Heart has glimpses of happiness, moments of comic relief, and just the right amount of sugar. We manage to re-visit old favorites (my sweethearts, Sylvain, Dom, and Patrick *swoon*) and the delight of being back in Luc and Summer's minds doesn't wear off as easily as one would imagine. Their thoughts, so similar and yet so different, their new familiarity with one another, all while maintaining a distance still, is all strangely moving and immensely touching. I love this couple. I rooted for this couple. And I root for them still.

Shadowed Heart is a must-read for fans of Florand's work. It's heart-felt and the depth packed into its short pages is unbelievable. Moreover, who wouldn't kill for a chance to lose themselves among Florand's prose, her descriptions of Southern France, or all the delectable chocolate her leading men can make? (Someone, PLEASE, let me know where I can find a French chef of my own!) Without a doubt, Shadowed Heart is yet another incredible novel from Florand--one of her finest yet.